Delivering Net Zero Social Housing Retrofit

On Easter Monday 2021, the UK’s electrical grid was ‘the greenest it has ever been’, with 80% generated via renewable energy and 65% of the UK’s electricity supplied by wind and solar PV alone.

Whilst this is great progress, as we further advance the delivery of net zero, the areas of the UK that are harder to decarbonise such as road freight, shipping, aviation and the built environment become more imperative.

In our latest research as part of our Housing Innovation programme, Connected Places Catapult has partnered with Social Finance to explore the constraints and opportunities in delivering net zero housing retrofit at scale in the social housing sector.

According to a report by the Carbon Brief, UK carbon emissions have declined by 51% on 1990 levels, primarily caused by the shift from coal for power generation, accelerated by a record 11% decline in greenhouse gas emissions in 2020.

For example 80% of UK domestic heating in the UK is currently met by natural gas, along with the UK having some of the oldest and least energy efficient housing stock in europe.

With a decarbonised grid, this has opened up opportunities to use alternatives to traditional gas and oil boilers such as Heat Pumps, Radiant Electric Panels and there are many innovations developing in Active Buildings technology. Yet, there is a lack of trust in many of these solutions from many RSL’s not wanting to anticipate technologies that might be regulated for in the future. Relying on systems alone is also a highly risky strategy, aside from the fact that some solutions such as heat pumps are most effective with low heating demands. Therefore, there is a need for a combination of measures to deliver net zero housing retrofit, but technology on its own is never a solution to a problem on its own. For example, there is an equal need for wider support to create the business case for retrofit in the first place.

Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) are seen by many policymakers as a potential ‘vanguard’ for net zero housing retrofit. With a concentrated ownership of homes, capacity to manage large-scale capital projects, and sense of mission, they are seen as being the most likely catalyst for expanded demand.

Furthermore, it is hoped that this new demand could start a virtuous cycle of falling costs, investment in R&D, and real progress towards Net Zero. However, progress by RSLs since that ambition was widely articulated in 2009 has been limited, and surveys of their current plans suggest that whatever constraints have applied over the last decade are still in place.

In our report published in 2020 ‘Retrofit: towards a sector wide roadmap’, we identified a key hypothesis, that data is a binding constraint in scaling net zero retrofit. In our latest research in partnership with Social Finance, through a data discovery we investigate the key constraints for RSLs in scaling up net zero housing retrofit and the opportunities in the use of data to catalyse growth in deep retrofit for net-zero housing.

The work has taken a focus on understanding the particular needs of retrofit decision makers in social housing to identify key constraints for delivering net zero housing retrofit, covering 5 key constraints including:


  • Belief in the business case
  • Availability of Finance
  • Trust and Transparency Across the Demand / Supply Divide
  • Housing stock data
Delivering Net Zero Social Housing Retrofit
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